Do you Have This VC Requirement? (Purity of Motivation)

Jason Yeh
July 11, 2023

"Any time I've invested in the idea rather than the founder it's been a mistake"

This came up in a convo with one of my friends who has a very impressive angel portfolio. We were talking about wins and losses in investing and the lessons we've taken from both.

When I dug into that statement more, here's what came out. He said he wants founders with great skills, instincts, bias towards action... but then also wants to understand why they're working on the company. When he sees great skills combined with a great connection to the company, he starts getting excited about the founder.

That thing he looks for combined with great skills is similar to a concept I often talk about with founders. It's something that the best investors are either implicitly or explicitly looking for and even have a term for it.

The term I use is "Purity of Motivation"

What is Purity of Motivation?

As much as I love the term (and love coining terms), I can't claim this one as my own. I first heard the term from Sarra Zayani, partner at Hedosophia. She was doing a fireside chat for founders with me and sharing how she conducts a first call.

Sarra's main message was, if she can't see a strong reason for you to be working on the startup, something powerful enough to pull you away from much higher-paying opportunities and strong enough to keep you motivated during the tough times, she's not interested.

Successful investors have seen the movie play enough times to know some of the fanciest resumes will give up when the juice is not worth the squeeze for them. They also know sometimes people with the "wrong background" but the right motivation can do amazing things...

Do you have Purity of Motivation?

First off, some people immediately think purity of motivation only means some crazy dedication to saving the world or fixing a personal pain point that destroyed your family. Those things often do lead to purity of motivation, but they're not the only ones. On the other side of the spectrum, some people truly love the game of business. They truly love solving problems and would do it for free if it were exciting enough.

5 questions to help you test your own purity of motivation

1) Why are you doing this?

2) Why is that important to you?

3) Why is that the case?

4) Why's that?

5) Why?

You might recognize this as as the framework Toyota uses to find out the root cause of issues. I like doing this to help founders stress test their own engagement with a company.

If by the 5th why, you haven't landed on something that puts a twinkle in your eye, not only is that a tough thing to want to get on the VC treadmill for, but it also means you will likely have a hard time convincing investors. They're looking for that strong why, that purity of motivation.

Why are you working on your company?

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